Suddenly Sergio

By Jason SobelNovember 1, 2011, 4:22 pm

The most important part of Sergio Garcia's second consecutive European Tour victory was neither his continued ball-striking brilliance nor his unforeseeable resurgence on the greens.

It was his fist-pump.

To be clear, it wasn’t the technical aspect of his celebratory form that was so meaningful. It was the emotion he displayed in the process.

When Garcia holed the clinching putt at Valderrama to win by one stroke on Sunday and back up a title at his hometown course eight days earlier, there was no subdued, benign reaction to his achievement. Instead, he elicited a mammoth roar accompanied by a ferocious fist-pump – the reflection of a man who wanted nothing more than to taste victory once again.

That may sound like the standard response for anyone who competes for a living, but it wasn’t always this way for Sergio. In order to truly appreciate the moment, we have to look at all of those moments before it when winning – and even just competing – meant so little.

One year ago, he was ensconced in a self-imposed leave of absence. If that sounds strange, it should. College professors take sabbaticals, not professional golfers. He wasn’t feeling passion for the game anymore, though, and so he went cold-turkey and stopped competing.

Then again, maybe it shouldn’t sound so strange. Garcia has never measured his self-worth by success, once responding to a question about the importance of winning a major championship by contending, “It's important, but it's not the main thing in my life. If I don't win a major championship, it doesn't mean that I'm going to be unhappy or less happy than I will be if I do.”

And so he stopped playing in pursuit of happiness. He spent quality time with family, celebrated friends’ birthdays and played soccer. He served as an assistant captain for the victorious European Ryder Cup team. He did everything but play golf.

When he returned, Garcia was hardly a relaxed, refreshed version of his former self. On the contrary, he was still an angst-ridden enigma who wasn’t completely positive that competing again served his best interests.

On a blustery day in New York City in February, during a promotional appearance for his equipment manufacturer, he manifested as what has so often been described as the stereotypical Sergio, which is to say he was surly, moody, petulant and whiny.

He was also honest to a fault, his long-ingrained method of failing to sugarcoat any subject still very much alive. This is a man who once suggested that the golf gods had robbed him of capturing the Open Championship. So often he was a public relations nightmare and a journalist’s dream.

Asked that day to handicap his break from the game, he confidently claimed, “It was great. It was awesome. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.”

When prodded to elaborate, he added, “You get to travel a lot, you get to meet a lot of nice people, but at the same time you miss a lot of things to do. What people don't realize, they look at you and say, ‘He's only been playing for 11 or 12 years.’ But it's not true. I've been traveling and missing Christmas and missing friends' birthdays – things like that – since I was 12. So after a while, you do need a little bit of a break to kind of see things a little clearer.” Read between the lines and you’ll see someone who wishes that break had never ended.

Fast forward six months and Garcia is once again in the greater Metropolitan area, but his frame of mind is a world away from that previous encounter. His churlishness has been replaced by joviality; his angst disintegrated into serenity.

Once again, he speaks openly about his struggle to find a balance between his personal and professional lives, but he does so with a smile on his face. Rather than subsisting inside that vortex of pressure, there’s a sense that it is all a part of the past, a time in his life he can still discuss, but is no longer battling.

“I feel much better about myself,” he said in August, just before The Barclays. “I try not to take things as seriously. Don’t get me wrong – that doesn’t mean that I’m not trying and I’m not giving it my best out there, but that’s how I’m taking it. I give it my best and sometimes my best is not that good. I’ve just got to deal with it. And then when my best is in good shape, then I’m out there contending like we’ve done this year in four or five tournaments. I’m excited about it. I’m obviously enjoying the game a lot more than I probably did the last couple of years and I’m just looking forward to keep going in this same direction.”

At the time, it wasn’t difficult to foresee impending success for Garcia. He has now delivered on that premonition, claiming a pair of titles in consecutive weeks and ascending to 18th on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Sure, there may be technical parts of his game that are flourishing more than in the past. His drives may be going straighter and deeper, his iron shots may be more precise, his putting may be armed with more confidence.

Such talents have always endured for Sergio, though. His current success is all about desire and attitude; it’s about clearing mental hurdles in order to allow the physical gifts to thrive in competition.

That’s why his reaction on Sunday was so important. That celebratory fist-pump wasn’t just the culmination of triumph over a field of opponents; it was the culmination of triumph over himself. This is a man who has overcome multiple obstacles in the past 12 months, the least of which isn’t his ambition toward winning – and even just competing – both of which meant so little not so long ago.

When asked about this newfound perspective after his victory, he said, “I’m just happy with my year. We all know how difficult golf is. This is a working process; I’ll keep working on it, and trying hard and enjoying it.”

The talent of Sergio Garcia is obvious – always has been, always will be. If his enjoyment and desire remain, success will continue to follow.

Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 4:30 am

Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.

Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

“I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.

Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.

“Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.

Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.

“Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 9:50 p.m. ET

Images and footage from Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson's round Friday at Trump National in Jupiter, Fla., alongside President Donald Trump:



Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.



Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.